All posts by Our Planet

Can global warming be held culpable for wildfires?

In the wake of the devastating wildfires that tore through the Pedrógão Grande region of Portugal just over a year ago, a group of children (in association with British environmental lawyers and the NGO Global Legal Action Network) affected by the fires are crowdfunding with the eventual aim of levelling the blame for the wildfire at a total of 47 European countries for their failure to adequately combat climate change. They have already accumulated over £27,000, and aim to eventually raise a total of £350,000 to take their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

They certainly believe they have a legitimate claim – and so too do the people pledging money to support their cause. So, how interrelated are global warming and the frequency and severity of wildfires? And, when it comes down to it, just how responsible are the European countries for the Portuguese wildfire?

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5 tips for teaching your Kid Photography

Majority of children these days, spend time using gadgets like mobile phones, tablets, and computers. This makes them lethargic at an early age and also leads to slower metabolism causing obesity. It also slows them down mentally, hampers their creativity and impacts their overall development. Due to staying indoors all the time, children become shy and introvert and have a difficult time interacting with others socially.

An ideal way to counter this is to ensure your child gets involved in an activity that gives them sufficient physical movement. And compels them to go outdoors and make friends with like-minded people. Children who learn a creative art at a young age develop a keen eye for detail. Art transcends culture and language. Creative arts help children develop an appreciation for different cultures and communities at an early age.

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The Earth’s carrying capacity for human life is not fixed

In a recent Nature Sustainability paper, a team of scientists concluded that the Earth can sustain, at most, only 7 billion people at subsistence levels of consumption (and this June saw us at 7.6 billion). Achieving ‘high life satisfaction’ for everyone, however, would transgress the Earth’s biophysical boundaries, leading to ecological collapse.

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We are missing our chance to stop the sixth mass extinction

The immense challenge of climate change has caused myopia among a lot of politicians, sending them into a self-destructive state of denial. More quietly, though, that immensity has triggered another kind of myopia, this one among conservationists. In focusing on the staggering planetary impacts of greenhouse emissions, they are losing sight of the other ways that human beings lay a heavy hand on the planet. In particular, they are paying too little attention to the true causes of (and potential solutions to) the loss of species around the world – a massive die-off often referred to as ‘the sixth extinction’.

Last summer, a team of biologists led by Paul R Ehrlich of Stanford University, the author of The Population Bomb (1968), published an article in the journal Science Advances, setting out the problem in stark terms. The average rate of vertebrate species loss over the past century has been up to 100 times higher than the average background rate of extinction, and roughly 60 percent of large animal species (most of them in the developing world) are threatened with extinction. Another recent major study, this one by the ecologist William Ripple of Oregon State University and his colleagues, comes to depressingly similar conclusions.

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Reducing the environmental impact of an office building

The damaging decline of our environment is undoubtedly a pressing concern. The rise in pollution, excess use of energy and our reliance on non-recyclable materials are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Whilst positive changes are being made, including supermarkets cutting down the use of plastic bags and the EU’s ban on non-biodegradable products, one area that’s often overlooked is the impact office buildings have on the environment.

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Bananas have died out once before – don’t let it happen again

You probably take bananas for granted. In the United Kingdom, one in four pieces of fruit consumed is a banana and, on average, each Briton eats 10 kg of bananas per year; in the United States, that’s 12 kg, or up to 100 bananas. When I ask people, most seem to think bananas grow on trees. But they don’t, in either the literal or the figurative sense: in fact, they’re in danger of extinction.

I knew almost nothing about bananas when I landed in Costa Rica in 2011. I was a young scientist from the University of Michigan on a scholarship to study abroad, with fantasies of trapping and identifying tropical fish in pristine rainforest streams. But the institute I was enrolled at brought us to a banana plantation, and from the moment I set foot on the dense, dark clay beneath that endless green canopy, my fish fantasy evaporated. I became fascinated by the fruit I found growing on large, towering herbs, lined up in rows in their tens of thousands.

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World’s Water Inequality Crisis

Despite today people are living longer, healthier, and happier lives than ever before, there are still many problems that humanity should address. One of the most important of them is the water inequality. While people in First World countries can very easily take fresh, clean water for granted, more than 800 million others in impoverished areas have no access to any clean water source. It is a common occurrence in some regions for people to defecate openly, walk more than 30 minutes to access clean water and share toilets with other humans. In 2018, is this really something that we should just accept as an inevitable way of the world?

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You don’t have a right to believe whatever you want to

Do we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe? This supposed right is often claimed as the last resort of the wilfully ignorant, the person who is cornered by evidence and mounting opinion: ‘I believe climate change is a hoax whatever anyone else says, and I have a right to believe it!’ But is there such a right?

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What a fossil revolution reveals about the history of ‘big data’

In 1981, when I was nine years old, my father took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although I had to squint my eyes during some of the scary scenes, I loved it – in particular because I was fairly sure that Harrison Ford’s character was based on my dad. My father was a palaeontologist at the University of Chicago, and I’d gone on several field trips with him to the Rocky Mountains, where he seemed to transform into a rock-hammer-wielding superhero.

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Now it’s time to prepare for the Machinocene

Human-level intelligence is familiar in biological hardware – you’re using it now. Science and technology seem to be converging, from several directions, on the possibility of similar intelligence in non-biological systems. It is difficult to predict when this might happen, but most artificial intelligence (AI) specialists estimate that it is more likely than not within this century.

Freed of biological constraints, such as a brain that needs to fit through a human birth canal (and that runs on the power of a mere 20W lightbulb), non-biological machines might be much more intelligent than we are. What would this mean for us? The leading AI researcher Stuart Russell suggests that, for better or worse, it would be ‘the biggest event in human history’. Indeed, our choices in this century might have long-term consequences not only for our own planet, but for the galaxy at large, as the British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees has observed. The future of intelligence in the cosmos might depend on what we do right now, down here on Earth.

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